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The Benefits of Acai: Fact, Fiction, and Food for Thought

acai health benefits

We’re living in the age of so-called “superfoods,” and sometimes it can be difficult to separate fact from fiction. Like some of the other highly touted Instagram stars of late — kale, chia seeds — acai’s trend moment is now.

Acai berries can be found in purees, juices, powders, and even tablet supplements. And it’s not just because the berry is tasty, which it is. It’s because acai has a reputation as one of the most potent superfoods out there.

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But no matter how beautiful those acai bowls and smoothies we see plastered all over social media are, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll benefit you as much as they claim.

So, how much of the acai hype is true? What’s the best form to consume it in? And ultimately, is it worth searching it out? We’ll help you make the call.

Fact

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Acai, pronounced ah-sigh-ee, are berries that grow on the acai palm tree, which is indigenous to South America (mainly Brazil). So yes, when we say “acai,” we’re talking about berries.

In the United States, acai is most easily found in puree form in the freezer aisle, and often referred to singularly as acai. The berries are highly perishable, which is why they’re found here frozen or in tablets or powders.

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Acai juices can also be found, but most nutritionists recommend avoiding them because, as with most juices, the added sugar negates what little nutrients are left after processing the fruit into juice. Juicing also removes the fiber and any nutrients that are bound to the fiber. Pureeing does not, which is why smoothies are generally considered a healthier option.

In many ways, acai berries live up to the hype.

Here’s a look at some of the benefits:

Benefits
  • While berries of all kinds contain anti-inflammatory nutrients as well as vitamins C and A, and dietary fiber, studies show that acai berries have more of all of these than other kinds of berries.
  • They are also one of the few fruits that contain oleic acid, which is one of the healthy elements in olive oil.
  • Acai berries have a number of healthy fats, including monounsaturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids.

They also contain:

  • certain essential amino acids
  • magnesium
  • potassium
  • phosphorus
  • manganese
  • vitamins B-1, B-2, and B-3
  • trace minerals (iron, calcium, copper, and zinc, to be exact)

Fiction?

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While it’s pretty clear that acai berries are good for you, there are some fantastic (and maybe fantastical) claims out there about this amazing fruit. So what’s true and what’s not?

Does acai increase energy?

Antioxidants are a great way to combat focus fatigue and increase memory. Inflammation is a big cause of mental fatigue and antioxidants help ease inflammation (in this case, neural inflammation, which helps with mental energy), so acai berries can help with mental energy. And the electrolytes in them can help with physical energy. So the simple answer? Yes, eating acai berries can increase energy in certain ways.

Do they have antiaging properties?

Again, the simple answer is yes, and again, it’s largely due to antioxidants. Antioxidants go after free radicals, which damage the body in different ways, the damage accumulating as we get older. Since antioxidants neutralize free radicals, anything that’s high in antioxidants is essentially antiaging. And since acai has high levels of antioxidants even compared to other berries, they are quite good when it comes to antiaging benefits.

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Do acai berries prevent cancer?

There’s no research to prove this benefit of acai consumption in humans. That being said, just as other berries (like cherries and blackberries) help battle free radical damage and inflammation thanks to their — you guessed it — antioxidants, it’s possible that acai berries could fight the underlying causes of the formation of cancer cells. Again, the jury is still out on acai berries specifically, so it’s wise to keep an eye on any new research that comes out supporting this idea one way or the other.

Do acai berries help you lose weight?

The short answer here is no. While some have touted the berry’s ability to curb your appetite and increase metabolic function, there has been no evidence of this. The high-fiber level does help with digestion and can boost the body’s ability absorb nutrients and break down foods more efficiently, but studies have not supported that acai berry consumption increases metabolism, thus helping with weight loss. And though some believe it has appetite-suppressing qualities, there’s been no evidence to indicate this either.

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Bottom line? Eating a healthy fruit, like acai berries, can certainly curb appetite and help you not binge on a processed sugary treat. Acai isn’t, however, known to help with appetite suppression any more than other common fresh fruits.

Food for thought

Just because acai berries are not a weight loss magic bullet doesn’t mean adding them to your diet won’t have benefits. Dietitians often caution against supplements and capsules in general, as the body absorbs vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients much better when consumed as part of a whole food. Acai supplements (both powder and tablets) are no exception. And with juice getting a thumbs-down as well, frozen puree is the way to go.

The purees are most popularly eaten as smoothie bowls. They have an ice cream-like consistency achieved by blending mixed fruits along with nut or soy milk.

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Ready to make an acai bowl yourself? Follow one of these recipes:

Recipes

Bottom line

While acai berries do have health benefits, adding any “superfood” to an unhealthy diet is not going to be helpful. Instead, try incorporating a few superfoods into a sensible diet. As much as we may want to think that putting kale on greasy pizza or adding a little to canned corned beef automatically makes it healthy, this is not typically true — and the same goes for acai.

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Acai, like all superfoods, should be part of a healthy and balanced diet. Add a regular exercise program to truly reap the benefits.

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